Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Czech
ESRB rating: Mature
Release date: Available now
Vito Scaletta is just the right kind of tool for the mafia. He makes himself available at all hours, he’s a snappy dresser, and he can handle a gun when the situation calls for it, thanks to his war experience. He’s a man who anyone with a wad of cash in their hand can trust to do whatever it takes to get the job done. So when the big guy slurping pasta at the end of the table says, “I got dis job for ya….” or “See dat guy? Whack ‘im” in between chews, Vito calmly nods, says “Alright,” and heads out the door, no questions asked. He’s the perfect tool for the job, and in Mafia II, you play as that tool.
Anyone who’s familiar with the first game, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven, will feel right at home with the sequel, although the time period has advanced a bit. First-timers should think of it as Grand Theft Auto 1940’s – 50’s, confined to a tight narrative tunnel. See, like its father, Mafia II is driven entirely by story, so don’t expect a plethora of side missions or extras to fill in the time after the end game; it’s essentially chapter, save, chapter, save, but in an open world. Like an interactive mobster movie.
And it’s a fairly decent one at that. We’ve come to expect the knife-in-the-back mentality of the mob movie genre, and trust me, there’s plenty of that present here. But Mafia II attempts to throw some curves in to keep things interesting, especially in regards to where Vito’s travels take him. There’s even a creative nod to the first game thrown into one of the later chapters for anyone with a good memory. Overall, it’s a fun ride, filled with ups, downs, guns, babes and cars—at least until you hit the end, which sucks pretty bad.
I won’t spoil it, though, because the rest of the game is definitely worth playing through to be disappointed like that. For example, short of a WWII era Gran Turismo, you won’t find better looking vehicles in a game today, and yes, they’re much more fun to drive than in the first game. Developer 2K Czech also did a great job of making the city of Empire Bay feel alive. I’ve seen it compared to a “Norman Rockwell painting come to life,” and try as I might, I can’t find a better way to describe it. The soundtrack is also equally lively, featuring scads of wartime and sock hop jukebox fare to keep grandpa and grandma jitterbugging well past their 8:30 bedtime.
Where Mafia II stumbles, though, is in the construction department. Some frame-rate issues persist when the action gets heavy, and stuttering sound bugs creep in now and again, mostly confined to the extremely well-done voiceovers. Then there’s the subject of dying, which at the beginning is fairly forgiving because of decently placed checkpoints. Towards the end, however, some scenes become a little hairy, causing some frustrating deaths. That, coupled with sparser checkpoints, forced me to make an exasperated jab at the power button more than a couple of times.
I can’t complain too much, though, because I got a pretty competent sequel to one of my favorite PC games of the past decade. Mafia II does exactly what it is supposed to do: it looks good, sounds good, plays well and has a decent story to tie it all together. There’s no doubt in my mind that any fan of the first game or a good story should buy it, but those that do should also be prepared to accept everything else that comes along with it.